Conducting a good interview

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Overview

The best interviews are intelligent, witty, interesting and enjoyable conversations. If you sound interested and excited about the topic, your subject will respond in kind.

The standard length for a Q&A interview is 20-25 minutes. If the subject is really engaging or significant, an interview may be longer.

Preparation

The key to a good interview is preparation.

Research

- Listen to the artist's music, as much as you can.
- Forty-five minutes of Google research will provide a lot of great topics.
- Come prepared with questions written down. Refer to those questions during the interview, but don't just read them off of the list.
- Always introduce yourself and mention that you are with KDHX in St. Louis.

Technical

- Check the recording equipment before the interview, including the batteries.
- Make sure that everything is working properly before you begin the interview.
- For phone interviews a land line is preferred, but a cell phone is OK. (Cell phones can drop calls, land lines are more reliable.)

Questions

The nature of your questions will be guided by the nature of the assignment or the subject. Try tailoring your questions to specifics about the artist's music, career and recent news.

Avoid being too general, but if you are interviewing a musician, here are some basic starter examples:

- Can you talk about the recording process for the latest album?
- What was it like to work with X as a producer?
- Some critics have pointed out X about your music. What’s your view?
- How did you get started playing piano/guitar/banjo or writing songs?
- You have a unique approach to songwriting/singing/playing. How has that changed over time?
- Tell me what inspired that song.
- You’ve had some interesting collaborations with X and Y. Talk about working with X or Y.

Avoid yes or no questions. Questions about influences can be effective, but avoid general questions about influences. If you know the artist has a surprising influence or experience, ask a specific question about that.

Most of all, it is important to listen. Instead of jumping back to your list of question, listen to your interviewee and think about your audience. Ask the next question on their behalf by considering what they would want to know, and what is a logical follow up to the point your interviewee just made?

Finally, consider using our best media channel for the content. That is, if the interview goes longer than 15 minutes, which is too long for the casual listener, plan to push the listening audience to our SoundCloud page to hear the rest of the interview. The production andmusic department will help you with editing, and preparation for airing the content.

Interviewing Performing Artists: A Practical Guide - NPR has compiled advice on interviewing musicians from a large number of radio hosts. Many of the points discussed here relate to radio interviews, but some are also relevant to interviews that are transcribed. The document presents a variety of perspectives on varying interview styles in different contexts. Not everything here applies to interviews that are transcribed.

Transcriptions

Be gentle and careful in editing your transcription. The goal is to reflect the natural speech and responses of the interviewee. That does not mean capturing "ums," "ahhs," garbled sentences or phrases, or inserting a lot of "(Laughs)," but rather giving natural and readable responses.

That said, if an interviewee speaks in an awkward, hard-to-read fashion, frequently using expressions such as "like," "kind of," "sort of," "you know," you may need to edit some of these out for readability.

The main thing is to not distort what the interviewee says. There is a fine line between including too much of the verbatim transcription, and not enough. Use your better judgment, with your goal being faithful expression of meaning and intent. The rule of thumb is to transcribe accurately, but clearly, what the subject says. If you need to make dramatic edits, within sentences or within a single train of thought, insert "..." where the edit happens. If you need to insert a word to clarify meaning, use square brackets. "[ ]"

Avoid unnecessary ellipses. Do not use them to indicate pauses or disjointed thoughts. Use them only when deleting significant words from a quotation. Include a space before and after the ellipsis:

- Bob Dylan said, "The answer ... is blowing in the wind."

If the material deleted forms a complete sentence, consider punctuating like this:

- The songwriter said, "I don't follow rules. ... I hate rules."

You do not want to slice and dice interviews up too much, resulting in dozens of ellipses or insertions. With a few minor grammar infractions, or missing words, you may gently edit, but be gentle and don't change the meaning or intent of the comment.

If a response is really long, say over 200 words, and there's a natural break in the response -- sort of like a paragraph -- and what comes after that pause or break is non-essential or redundant, you may excise.

In other words, you do not have to include everything the interviewee says. Instead, look for natural places to edit, without distorting or leaving out vital responses or contexts.

Furthermore, if you asked a question and the response just didn't go anywhere interesting, or you feel like it could be cut, just leave out both the question and the answer completely. Again, so long as the transcription flows and the meaning is not distorted, such gentle editing is appropriate. You don't want to overwhelm the reader with marginal, boring or redundant quotations.

Plan to save your recording of the interview for at least six months.

Formatting

After you have finished transcribing, follow the format of Q&A interviews that are already published already.

Use a 100-300 word intro, followed by the questions and answers.

Here are some published examples: kdhx.org/tag/interview

And, as always, ask your editor if you have any questions!